Shishir Hattangadi traces city cricket's most famous journey

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Shishir HattangadiIt is not abnormal to archive little things about an extraordinary sportsman after he has walked into the sunset post an admirable career. Sachin Tendulkar will discover a lot of qualities about him that will be documented in the next few weeks. Little things that one does sometimes become a part of sporting folklore when you achieve so much over two decades and more.

To try and turn the clock back of a skillful achiever is almost as difficult as groping for small things that made a colossal personality. It was a script that seemed perfect from the time he caught everybody and his brother Ajit’s attention with Bradmanesque numbers against his name from his school days.

Walking into the Bombay dressing room when he did, he only looked underage to be with the bigger boys; not in stature but certainly in age. There is a magnanimous quality in most dressing rooms when someone so young walks in. It is more about being protective, making the boy comfortable and making him feel he belongs where he has reached.

Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar in 1989

At times, it is important to start behaving that much younger to make a 15-year-old feel he is on familiar terrain. He was a certainty when he walked into the dressing room for Bombay. When he strode out for his debut innings at the Wankhede Stadium against Gujarat on December 11, 1988, it was an uncomplicated debut. It was as if the world of cricket was keen to see him perform.

His hundred, as I recollect, was a walk in the park. There was no struggle or graft. It was domination from the moment he set foot on the pitch. His defence had control and a message of authority, his attack provided indication of being in control of his batsmanship as much of the match situation.

Great story unfolds
It seemed from the dressing room that we were watching a great story unfold, a story that all who played in his debut game would be in the “also starring” credits. It was obvious then that barring injury, the protagonist of Indian cricket had arrived. While Indian cricket was still searching for their next favourite on post Sunil Gavaskar’s retirement, Wankhede was watching the boy from Bandra script the preface of a story that would last 25 years.

Shishir Hattangadi and Sunil Gavaskar
Sunil Gavaskar and Shishir Hattangadi (left) watch Sachin Tendulkar score a hundred on Ranji debut for Mumbai at Wankhede Stadium on Dec 11, 1988. Pic Courtesy: The making of a Cricketer By Ajit Tendulkar

It was no surprise that Gavaskar who had stayed away from a cricket ground since his retirement was present to watch the heir to his throne score a ton on his first- class debut. Little did one realise that this kid was mature and ahead of his time in his demeanour and attitude. He said the right things, behaved in an acceptable way and just gave every indication that he was born and cultivated with something scripted by the Almighty and the culture imbibed at home.

While there was a boyishness in his humour, his observational skills were quite awesome. He could impersonate some of the great cricketers he may have watched as he played in the by lanes of Bandra east and Sahitya Sahawas. An eye for detail, be it the quality of his willow and the fitting of his gear or even the complete focus of the job on hand even when it came to eating his lunch. The concentration was unflappably admirable.

I suspect a lot of young Sachin’s batting smartness came from the hours he bowled in the nets. Experimenting with various angles, actions and different types of balls, allowed him to work out his batting from a bowler’s perspective. By being keen as mustard to bowl to every batsman in the nets, I sense he was finding answers, knowingly, to questions bowlers would pose to him throughout his long and distinguished career.

Confidence coupled with success - social and financial - can change people. Arrogance can be accompanied by confidence It is human. To be able to keep one’s poise and control despite these highs and a few lows, one needs some kind of divine intervention and a calming serenity at home. It may also at times come from a belief that some powerful force is scripting the story and one has to take It as it comes and not too seriously.

His rise has been admirable, his longevity, a testimony of his ability to sustain a love for his passion. It has been a long journey and he must be tired. He is human after all. The Rolls Royce eventually has to go back into the garage one day as it will on the 18th of next month but it will still be admired and revered by all those who have been part of a long successful journey.

* The writer is a former Mumbai captain. He put on a century partnership with Tendulkar in the star’s second Ranji game against Saurashtra.

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